Why I Have Mixed Feelings About Ontario’s Sunshine List

A Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted March 25th, 2016 on Niagara At Large

While I was posting news of the Ontario government’s release this March 25th of its annual list of public sector employees making a yearly salary of $100,000 or more, I could already imagine some visitors to Niagara At Large saying; ‘Okay, but where are the names of the public sector employees in this region who are on the list?”

Ontario's Sunshine List was a creation of former Premier Mike Harris, who declared war on the public sector like no other premier, before or since.

Ontario’s Sunshine List was a creation of former Premier Mike Harris, who declared war on the public sector like no other premier, before or since.

“How about doing what some of the mainstream newspapers in Niagara have already done since the release of the list and post at least some of the names?”

My short answer to that is that in the days and weeks ahead, Niagara At Large will be posting the names and salaries of at least a few individuals on the list, but only because of questions already swirling around about how these individuals got hired to the job they have in the public sector in the first place and whether or not we, the people, are getting value for the amount of our money they are pocketing for the services they provide.

Beyond using the information to help answer questions like that, I have always had mixed feelings about the Sunshine List or the ‘Public Sector Salary Disclosure’ list, as it is more formally called, and the way it is too often randomly or gratuitously used, without placing any of the names or salaries on it in a meaningful context, by the mainstream media.

One of the reasons for my mixed feelings has to do with the fact that the idea of publishing a list like this for public sector employees in Ontario originated in 1996 with the then recently elected Conservative government of Mike Harris, which came to power with a promise to privatize services and slash public sector jobs.

Releasing lists with thousands of names of people making $100,000 or more a year in government jobs – and doing it at a time when many working people in Ontario were losing their jobs in the wake of a recession and companies closing their plants here and moving to Mexico – added fuel to Harris’s anti-government steamroller while he rolled forward with an agenda modelled after what Margaret Thatcher got going in Britain a decade and a half earlier.

So the Harris government would release its list and someone who lost their job when Ford moved some of its production from a plant in Niagara Falls to Mexico would look a see a director for a regional public works department making more than a $100,000 a year and saying; ‘Yeh, get rid of that guy!’ Trouble is that if you looked over at Britian where Thatcher had already done it, the person now running a privatized water utility for a community was making four times more than the public works director here, and the infrastructure for treating and pumping water to homes in that British community was being so poorly looked after that the residents were being issued repeated boil water orders due to unsafe fecal counts.

sunshine salaries

Further to that, the public works director making four times less here was (and still is) not only responsible for operating the regional water system, but was and is also responsible for waste management services, the maintenance of roads and highways, and transit. But comparisons like that are not taken into account in making up these lists.

So there is very little hint of the amount of responsibility or possible personal or public liability if someone makes a mistake at a job reported along with the salary figures disclosed on these annual lists. And there are rarely ever any comparisons made to what the individual might be making if they held a similar position in the private sector.

What you more often get in media reports (as was the case in one Niagara area newspaper after the latest list came out) is a mention of those public sector employees in the region who have the highest salaries. For example, there was a reference to the fact that Niagara’s chief medical health officer Dr. Valerie Jaeger made $287,947, which may seem like a lot until you consider how much more other individuals are getting for running health systems across the province.

There was a time when Niagara’s regional government was not willing enough to pay enough for a chief health officer that it had trouble finding a doctor willing to leave a family practice or hospital system to do it. Do we want a qualified doctor at the health of a public health department in a region of more than 425,000 people or not? I am guessing that we do.

The Sunshine List shows long columns of individuals in certain categories of jobs, whether they be teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses or whatever. But we get no idea of how qualified or competent each individual is in their job, and there certainly isn’t any disclosure of resumes or performance reviews.

Yet many of us know from our own experience that when it comes to teachers – just to use them as an example – there are some who are worth more than they are getting paid and there are some who should be fired. The same would be true for virtually every other job category on the list, but there is no indication of that there.

So you won’t find me drooling at the bit each spring when the Sunshine List comes out, although I will be using some of the information on it selectively and I hope most visitors to this site will agree, for justifiable reasons in the days and weeks ahead. For that stay tune.

In the meantime, if you believe I am wrong in feeling mixed about the list, please share your views below.

NOW IT IS YOUR TURN. Niagara At Large encourages you to share your views on this post. A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who share their first and last name with them.

Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region.

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5 responses to “Why I Have Mixed Feelings About Ontario’s Sunshine List

  1. I have followed the Sunshine Listing for about 14 years and have seen it grow and grow while Seniors and peoples on Disability Pensions have fallen to the wayside into the ditches of despair because it was easy for governments, Provincial and Federal to prey on people who had no advocate to fight for their rights.
    Point here….As I was looking over the shoulder of a friend who was reading a recent article in the Toronto Star. I was totally shocked and angered to read about the much heralded recent PanAM/Parapan games that were here in Ontario and Yes here in Niagara, games where it seemed an administration EMPIRE was built at the expense of unwary taxpayers..
    A female administrator drew the highest remuneration at over $825,000.00 followed by a male who drew as remuneration a sum over $800,000.00 this did not end as two other in the EMPIRE drew over $700,000.00…for a total of over $3,000,000.00 and this does not include the administrator who was terminated at over $500,000.00
    Also on the List of SHAME was the Energy Sector group with astronomical Remunerations that rival and in most cases vastly surpass the take home of the others above……
    This has got to stop and it seems our corporate governments rubber stamp these EMPIRES. These people and their Corporate Union Bosses cry when this List is Questioned???????

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  2. Nice work if you can get it.

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  3. Linda McKellar

    I would like to add that some of the lower echelons of the sunshine list are people who have no choice but to work overtime, like police called in to jury duty on days off or hospital staff who work half a dozen consecutive weekends and nights and are even paid in lieu because they sometimes cannot take their accrued vacation time due to staffing shortages. Some of those sunshine recipients would be quite content to actually have days off or a vacation. I’m not necessarily defending but rather explaining a few of the cases.

    Others just ARE greedy and go for every extra shift or do other part time jobs (like police doing security). How many teachers take summer jobs and do supply after retiring while there are hundreds of new teachers who can’t get a job? The CEO’s and desk jockeys are the ones who really p*** me off. They also declare every doughnut and coffee as entertaining clients and “business” meetings while never breaking a nail. I sure never made any sunshine list and I worked holidays, weekends and shifts such that I missed weddings, and all kinds of family and social events. I was even asked to work the day of my dad’s funeral. You can guess my response!

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  4. What I don’t understand is how David Barrick gets a job at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority making $109,257.68 in 2015 with a 7.92% raise from the year before. Please remind me, how does he go from Operations Manger to Director of Corporate Services in such as quick time without having any academic qualifications or previous experience working for a conservation agency?

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  5. An additional note, Jack Kitts who was brought in a couple of years ago to “economize” and organize the NHS is now CEO of the hospital in Ottawa and made $630,485 plus $69,172 in benefits. VERY economical.

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